Archives for the Month of October, 2014

Where Time Becomes Nervous: John Mcphee’s Annals of the Former World

Annals of the Former WorldPanorama from Point Sublime [Grand Canyon] – Printed by Julius Bien [1882]

If you want to know about Protoliths, Abyssoliths, Xenoliths and Tectonic Knots, of index fossils, totemic assemblages of ophiolitic Serpentine, of erratic stones and aesthonspheric calligraphy, geochronology, abyssal plains and gravity maps, you might do well to journey with John Mcphee over the coarse of a few decades, and four books, while he traveled with a handful of distinguished geologists across the 50th parallel of the US. His epic account of the geology of North America, in Annals of the The Former World, contains 4.5 billion years of geological history crammed into the 900 pages. Mcphee is well-know as a master stylist. His drama of lithology and stratigraphy relies on the clever interplay between the story the Earth and the life stories and anecdotes of those geologists who helped him unpack the annals of deep time. The author melds metaphors between micro-time and deep time instinctively, juggling time scales of the vast and minute to bring into focus what geologists call the ‘bigger picture’. While examining a rock at the Rawlins Uplift he says ‘we were looking at moments of over half the existence of the Earth… In 1/250th of a second a camera could capture 26 hundred million years’. Later ‘The difference between a human lifetime and 400 Million years would seem to be the difference between time incomprehensible and time infinitesimal, but what brings them together is that the smaller unit – bridging in the mind the intervening aeons – can imagine and virtually see the larger one.

Annals of the Former WorldEngraving of the unconformity at Jedburgh from Theory of the Earth Volume 1 – James Hutton [1795]

The concept of geological deep time was coined by the Scottish Geologist James Hutton, in his treatise Theory of the Earth, in the late 18th century after geochemical inspection of rock in Scotland and Scandinavia. Up until his discovery the religious-centric world-view held that the age of the planet was a few thousand years old. Stratigraphic signatures and compositions of rock gave rise to Hutton’s revised estimation of hundreds of millions years – still quite a way short of the actual 4.54 billions years we now know it to be.

According to James Hall, who popularised Hutton’s work, ‘the mind seemed to grow giddy by looking so far into the abyss…We found no vestige of a beginning, no prospect of end’. Stephen Jay Gould, in his book Times Arrow, Times Cycle commented that these swathes of time are so immense that we can only understand them as metaphors in relation to the time humans have existed in the planet.

Mcphee’s writing is poetic whist still retaining scientific rigour, his stories seem to disclose an immensely slow but purposeful unfolding of tectonic history. We travel with him exploring road-cuts in order to better understand the orchestration of mountain ranges by reading backwards through time. The author reverse engineers the cryptography of geology by examining index fossils, by separating gneisses from schists, and by exploring more recent techniques such as geochronology, thermochronology and acromagnetic mapping.

Annals of the Former WorldGeological Cross Section of Colorado – Josiah Edward Spurr [1898]

‘The writing of Stratigraphy is a cryptic one, but before you have crossed the range you have seen rock of such varied ages and provenance that time itself becomes nervous – Pilocene, Miocene, Eocene, Jurassic here, Triassic there… it seems random, a collector of relics of varied ages’. He reminds us that ‘Nature is messy, don’t expect it to be uniform or consistent’. Lithographic time gaps confuse matters and the cooling of magma can corrupt the chronology, but here and there is some order and the writings of these rocks can decoded to show their past and future intentions. ‘Corrugations of abyssal plains read indefinitely as extending barcodes’ and ‘The structure of the sea floor is a simple set of tree rings…..carrying easily decipherable magnetic structures’. Or according to Anita Harris, his traveling geologist companion in one section, ‘Rocks are books, they have a different vocabulary and alphabet, but you can learn to read them…they tell you about temperature and pressure…the colours, grain, sizes and the ripples give you clues to the energy of the environment of deposition. As you ascend mountains you descend through the layers of the ancient oceans. A road cut to a geologist is the Rosetta Stone to a Egyptologist’.

Robert le Ricolais’s Tensegrity Models – ‘The Art of Structure is Where to Put the Holes’

Robert le RicolaisAutomorphic Compression Member & Automorphic Tube Model – Robert le Ricolais

Robert le Ricolais’s wire-frame tensegrity structures may well stand as sculptural artworks in their own right. His finely crafted forms appear to have a remarkable lightness, insinuating objects of flight, part kite, part airship skeleton. Their balanced forms create a meditative aerodynamic aesthetic, implying propulsion or rotation. Some, throwing their graphic wire-frame shadows into space, defy gravity through their nearly-not-thereness.

Robert le RicolaisDouble Parabolic Trihex Bridge for the Skyrail – Robert le Ricolais

Robert le RicolaisDouble Parabolic Trihex Bridge for the Skyrail – Robert le Ricolais

Robert le RicolaisFunicular Polygon of Revolution Lemniscate – Robert le Ricolais

Robert le RicolaisAleph Bridge – Robert le Ricolais

Robert le RicolaisFunicular Polygon of Revolution Pseudosphere – Robert le Ricolais

Robert le RicolaisOmega Tower for 19 Power Lines – Robert le Ricolais

The models were brought to light in the mid 90’s by one of Ricolais previous students, professor Peter McCleary, for an exhibition of the architects works. They had been grounded and captive in various storerooms for over 20 years. Ricolais [1894-1977], like Buckmister Fuller, was interested in structural morphology defined by tensional integrity of natural structures – the ubiquitous soap bubble and sea shell. Ricolais ‘fantasized of going inside a rope to find a new way to realize his central vision of zero weight and infinite span’ Rather than the accretion of ideas to layer complex forms of analysis, Ricolais preferred to work in the opposite direction, simulating the Buddhist mindset – ‘the art of structure is where to put the holes’.

Robert le RicolaisPolyten Bridge – Robert le Ricolais

Robert le RicolaisRe-tensionned Monkey Saddle – Robert le Ricolais

Robert le RicolaisStarhex Dome – Robert le Ricolais

Related Posts:
Spatiologies – Vittorio Giorgini
Yuri Avvakumov – Agitarch Structures: Reconfiguring Utopia
The Architectural Fantasies of Iakov Chernikhov
Drop City – Colonizing consciousness with abodes of Truncated Icosorhombic Dodecahedra

Selected Tweets #22: Sonic Cosmogonies, Sculptural Cartography, Aeolian Speculation….

Noclip Urban Blocks - AlephographNoclip Urban Blocks – Alephograph

Selected tweets from my Twitter stream @MrPrudence [Oct 2013 – April 2014], with occasional addition annotations:

Magical-contamination collects and curates microbiological aesthetics and bacteriopoetics.

Mechanical Seizure – Minsu Kim. Bio-geometric space of electronic components simulates ‘life-like impressions.’

Drawing Machine – Robert Twomey. Precision-controlled CNC device programmed to ‘draw’ technical diagrams.

Typestracts – Dom Sylvester Houédard. Concrete poetry from the ‘cosmic typewriter’ of a Benedictine monk.

Drawing Machine – Robert TwomeyDrawing Machine – Robert Twomey

Xenakis Polytopes: Cosmogonies in Sound and Architecture. Architectural diagrams & mathematical notation.

Tintinnabuli Mathematica – Guy Burkin is programming Arvo Pärt’s Tintinnabuli method. Listen here.

Magnetophone – Aaron Sherwood. Sound sculpture uses electromagnetic fields to generate guitar drones.

An Acoustic Lyrical Mechanism – Basmah Kaki. Speculative therapeutic Aeolian mechanism situated in an Indian quarry.

magicalContaminationMagical Contamination

Graphic scores of Leon Schidlowsky
– who experimented with tonal concepts. (atonal, aleatorical & graphic notation)

The Impossible Music of Black Midi
– midi compositions comprising of several millions notes. A nihilistic hedonism of musical notation!

Sculptural Cartography
: How the Marshall Islands inhabitants used stick charts to map the waves.

Time of the Empress – Aziz + Cucher. Multiscreen architectures ‘rise into ruin’ after being built.

Mechanical Seizure – Minsu KimMechanical Seizure – Minsu Kim

Greg Smith on Mathew Biederman’s Serial Mutations. Necker cubes, isometric illusion & crystallographic indeterminacy

Gaudism – Echoechonoisenoise. Generative/handmade hybrid process to create organic & alien centenary structures.

Noclip Urban Blocks & Colocation Blocks. Isometric fragmentations from Alephograph

The Metropolis of Tomorrow – Hugh Ferriss [1929]. Future of the city: Monolithic skyscrapers and rooftop aerodromes.

One City – Will InsleyOne City – Will Insley

Onecity: Non Utopian Monumental City – Will Insley’s drawings/plans/collages of an immense imaginary city.

Sonia Sheridan was worshiping the glitch in 1982 with EASEL & Cromemco Z2D – Stretching the Grid.

N-light Membrane – Numen. Deforming recursive reflections via flexible foil membranes